Feeling democratic

I’m confused by the high-profile venting going on from within the iOS design community about the UI overhaul of iOS 7.

So, yeah. It’s not perfect.

My own major beef is that it fails the squint test. Badly.

But a few things are making my excitement outweigh my minor misgivings:

The intellectual rigour is a great gulp of fresh air

There’s a system now: grids, type scale progressions, palettes, a philosophy of how the spatial layers overlap and maintain place, and a devotion to simulating how real objects feel instead of mainly how they look.

The absence of a system and too-shallow realism is what bugged me about Corinthian leather and the book edge in iBooks. Leather was wholly arbitrary. The page edge didn’t get thinner relative to the number of virtual pages remaining.

I grant that the new system may be imperfectly applied. But it’s definitely more coherent and makes clear what needs to be fixed, and who thinks that the low-hanging fruit won’t get fixed as we report problems?

We can be as expressive with ‘feel’ effects as ‘look’ effects

The frameworks for providing parallax effects based on the gyroscope and adding physics to enhance the illusion that you’re manipulating real objects are incredible. Motion effects and dynamics are now very easy to apply and play with, which democratizes them and makes it possible for the less technically-inclined among us to participate in building up the relatively uncharted design language around them.1

The closest comparison I can think of is the effect the LaserWriter had on print design. I expect the same period of taking things way too far and backing off. But the LaserWriter completely transformed print design. And I expect the same here.

The best interfaces will outdo Apple’s anyway

In the end, UIKit defaults and system apps, like IKEA, establish direction and are meant to raise the average case. Because I love analogies, I’ll bring up Renzo Piano and LEED. LEED is a points-ranking system for measuring how sustainable a building is. It’s a blunt instrument that fails to consider a lot of subtle design issues and architects like to grumble about it. A lot. Piano has been one of the foremost ‘green’ architects since the 1970s. To my knowledge, he refuses to consider participating in LEED certification because (among other reasons) his obviously-sustainable approaches are too subtle to get much credit within the general-purpose system. He doesn’t need the system, though. And on balance, it helps the less skilled among us make greener buildings.

The new iOS 7 design defaults will do the same for app design. If you’re not a designer who needs it, go custom and do better, just like most of the ADA winners do now.

Wed 12 Jun 2013
  1. (Someone needs to write the motion-effects peer of the exquisite The Elements of Typograhic Style and pronto. We now have not one but two extremely subtle forms of design expression to master).